CAIRO: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif yesterday delivered a thinly-veiled threat to doctors who have announced their intention to go on strike this month.
In statements made during a Thursday radio interview, and carried yesterday morning in the Arabic press, Nazif is quoted as saying, “Many people are perhaps unaware of the fact that public sector employees – in particular doctors – are prohibited from striking. Those who wish to express themselves have many alternative methods to stopping work.
The Doctors’ Syndicate last month said it will launch a two-hour symbolic strike on March 15 if doctors’ demands for a minimum wage of LE 1,000 and improved conditions are not met.
They expressed their demands during two protests outside the People’s Assembly within the space of a fortnight.
Their action forms part of a wave of increasing industrial unrest within both the public and private sectors, which began in Mahalla in December 2006. A year later in December 2007 real estate tax collectors launched a strike and sit-in which resulted in the acceptance of their demands.
Commenting on the tax collectors’ strike, Nazif is reported as saying that the decision to allow them to strike was “an exception. They were allowed to strike despite not legally enjoying the right to do so because the government was aware that their lack of parity with general tax collectors was unjust, he says.
Nazif is also reported to have said that people are under the misconception that the government only responds to strikes, or to forceful action. He refuted this, claiming that anyone can secure their right through legal channels of expression.
A 1986 court decision concerning transport workers who were arrested when they launched strike action recognized the right to strike on the basis of Egypt’s international human rights treaty obligations.
But according to Kamal Abbas, chairman of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), which, in a widely-criticized decision, was closed down in April 2007 by an administrative order, the law governing strike action is hugely contradictory.
“The law both provides the right to strike while simultaneously imposing conditions that are impossible to meet, such as the agreement of two-thirds of union members to strike action, Abbas told Daily News Egypt.
“Intimidation by security bodies makes this an impossible number to reach, he continued.
Abbas also told Daily News Egypt that the Labor Law issued in 2003 gives the Prime Minister the right to draw up by-laws prohibiting strikes in certain professions and that he has used these powers to ban strikes in hospitals.
In addition, the Egyptian penal code prohibits strikes by public sector employees.
Article 124 makes it a crime for three or more individuals to jointly decide to stop work.
Hafez Abu Seada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights condemned the article.
“International human rights treaties signed by Egypt enshrine the right to industrial action for all professions without distinction as to whether the employee is in the public or private sector, Abu Seada told Daily News Egypt.
“Those working in hospitals also have the right to strike as long as their action does not affect emergency services, he continued.
The Doctors’ Syndicate has repeatedly underlined that the symbolic two-hour strike action planned for March 15 will not include emergency or maternity services.
Abbas, who was last Wednesday cleared of defamation charges for which he had been sentenced to a one-year prison term, says that Nazif must consider the shortcomings of the Wages Authority, which sets wages.
Skyrocketing inflation has seen the price of some commodities increase threefold in the past three years, while wages in many industries remain unchanged.
At a conference held at the Journalists’ Syndicate last week, participants called for a national strike on May 1, calling for a minimum wage of LE 1,200.
Abbas said it was “impossible that new doctors are paid only LE 230 after seven years of training.
“Dr Nazif talks about wages but doesn’t seem to notice that the problem is with the Wages Authority, which is completely out of touch with the reality of the cost of living, Abbas told Daily News Egypt. “If the Authority set his own wage he’d be the first one to go on strike.